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April 15, 2024

Cowabunga Through the Years

An In-Depth Timeline of the Evolution of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Image+Courtesy+of+The+Hollywood+Reporter
Image Courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter

Leonardo the leader, Raphael the muscle, Donatello the brains, and Michelangelo the party animal, aren’t the famous renaissance painters, but instead the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles who share their names. They also have some notable companions like Splinter, their wise rat mentor, April O’Neil, their loyal human friend, and Casey Jones, the wild card.

Shredder, Leader of the Foot Clan (DeviantArt)

These loveable, well-known characters started in a dark and gritty Indie comic series from the minds of Kevin Eastwood and Peter Laird. The original Mirage comics were inked in black and white and followed the turtles prowling the streets of New York City in hunt of their enemy the Foot Clan lead by Shredder the main antagonist.

Bebop, Krang, and Rocksteady (Tmnt)

Some other well known enemies include Bebop and Rocksteady, a pair of malicious mutants in the form of a warthog and rhino, and the Krang, an evil race of brain shaped aliens. 

This original display of the ninjas made it difficult to distinguish one teen from another, with all of the turtles having the same body type (a turtle, of course!). What made each stand out from one another was their diction.  For example, Donnie speaks in a way that lets the viewers know he is intelligent and Mikey jokes. There are also weapons of course! Leo historically wields twin katanas, Raph’s sai, Donnie’s bo staff, and Mikey with his nunchucks. 

What casual fans may not know is that each weapon counters their personalities.  Katanas, for example, are known to be violent weapons, while Leo is level headed.   Sai are good for defense, but Raph is typically on the offense.  Bo staffs are very traditional, while Donnie is typically rather technologically advanced.  Nunchucks require a lot of focus, which Mikey often lacks. 

When this line finally started to come out in color, the team all wore red masks. 

April O’Neil 

That is part of the reason why in 1987, when the first cartoon adaptation came to screens, each turtle sported a unique color as a way to tell them apart.  This also makes for better franchising.  The series ran for 10 seasons and strayed from the comics slightly, in order to focus on the turtles relationship with Splinter, their mentor and father, and April O’Neil.

After that gained traction, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles scored themselves their very own live action movie, the first the famous 90’s trilogy. It showcased the ninjas fighting their mortal enemy, Shredder, and their first meeting with the reporter April O’Neil. 

The turtles were brought to life by suits made by Jim Henderson’s Creature Shop, giving them a very real feel, and the movie ended up one of the most successful independent movies of all time.

The second of this trilogy, Secret of the Ooze, gave more backstory to the heroes in a half shell and included less fighting in order to help start up the franchise. Unfortunately, most fans agree that the suits and overall movie quality is lower than the first. However, that doesn’t compare to the third and final movie of the trilogy, which is regarded as the worst of the three due to the quality of the turtle costumes. The plot sends the ninjas to feudal Japan where they tussle with samurai.

A few years after this, in 1996, a two part Japanese special called Mutant Turtles: Superman Legend was released. It was made to promote a new line of toys and followed the turtles getting magical powers from a rock called the ‘Mutastone’. 

A year later one of the most controversial series of the TMNT franchise was released. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation was meant to continue the movie trilogy, but had many differences. One of the most significant differences was it specified none of the turtles were actually related, only brothers because “they found each other and became family”.

They did this to justify the introduction of a 6th female turtle named Mei Pieh Chi because she was raised in China where she learned the art of Shinobi. Upon coming to New York she was given the new name of Venus, after the Venus de Milo, and the turtles hesitantly let her join their ranks.

Another issue with the show was the low quality suits for both the turtles and the main antagonists, the dragons. Ultimately the show only got one season, unable to explore its full potential. 

There is substantial break between the next mutation and the release of the next addition to the franchise, with the next animated cartoon beginning in 2003. This 2D animated series followed the original mirage comics more than the previous adaptations and was darker than the movie trilogy. It also introduced Hun and his gang the Purple Dragons who became a recurring antagonist group in the shows to follow. Overall the 2009 series got best ratings until 2006.

From 2006 to 2007 aired a season similar to the red sky era of the original series, called Fast Forward which took place in 2150. In this season the turtles team up with the great grandson of previous allies April O’Neil and Casey Jones, named Cody Jones, and even get some help from some old enemies.

While this was running, in 2007 a computer animated movie was released. The film featured a few well known actors, including Chris Evans who starred as Casey Jones, and followed the turtles needing to reunite to fight a new threat to New York after they disbanded once they defeated shredder. 

Following this in 2008 the final season of the reigning 2007 series, called Back to the Sewers. It is generally regarded as one of the worst final seasons of the franchise. The series had one final hurrah in the 2009 movie Turtles Forever which included three generations of the ninjas including the 87 cartoon and original comic. In Turtles forever the teams must band together to fend off enemies after their mutagen. Some of the older fans, however, didn’t particularly like the movie because they felt it disrespected the 1987 turtles for making them too comical.

Now getting to eras of the franchise younger audiences will recognize, in 2012 Nickelodeon released a CGI cartoon. It was wildly successful, one of the best cartoons since 2009, and lasted for 5 seasons ending in2017. It put a lot of emphasis on the antagonists the Krang, and also made April O’Neil a teen for the first time in the franchise, which is something that later animated adaptations would follow. It 

In 2014 a new live action movie was produced by Micheal Bay, it was one of two movies fans refer to as the “Bayverse” because of the mind behind the screenplays. It was a modern reboot of the 1980 movies and starred Megan Fox as television journalist April O’Neil while Splinter and the turtles are brought to life by motion picture technology. 

A 2D animated movie length special related to the 2012 cartoon, which was meant to go alongside a new line of Playmate toys, was released the following year in 2015. It was geared towards younger children and followed the turtles through the Cretaceous Period meeting dinosaurs and fighting their enemies Bebop and Rocksteady.

 Micheal Bay’s sequel Out of the Shadows premiered in 2016, and is the last live action movie in the franchise to date. It added back in a lot of elements the first movie missed including the addition of Casey Jones and the Krang.

The next series to join the ranks was a 2D animated addition called Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, referred to as Rottmnt by the fans. It reimagined New York and gave a fresh new perspective on the turtles, their allies and their enemies. It brought many significant changes to the franchise, including a change in Splinter’s personality and new mystic power and Yokia world, but the most is definitely the species of the turtles. Previous generations imply the four brothers are typically box turtles, but in Rise each brother is a different species. Raph is an  Alligator Snapping turtle, Leo a Red-eared Slider, Donnie a Spiny Softshell turtle, and Mikey a Painted Box Turtle. 

It was rather lighthearted and also owned by Nickelodeon, it was originally meant to have 5 seasons, but due to poor ratings at the time it was cut to one and a half, running from 2018 to 2020, with a 2022 Netflix movie to try to wrap up loose ends. Since then it has gained quite the following and there are many fans rallying together on social media sites like Twitter and Tiktok calling for more additions to the Rise series. 

While Rise was running, a 2019 direct to dvd animated movie was put out on the market. Batman V.S. TMNT was a crossover movie where after finding themselves in Gotham City, the turtles teamed up with Batman and his team to take down a mutual threat. 

Finally, in 2023 the latest addition to the franchise is brought to the big screen. From the minds of Seth Rogan and Evan Golberg, Mutant Mayhem was another fresh perspective on the familiar ninjas. This was the first time in turtle history that the four brothers were voice acted by actual teens, and were written with a tennis manner that made them feel realer. 

The movie really drove home the emphasis on ‘Teenage’ by exploring topics previous iterations had not, like the turtles wishing they could go to high school and prom. The movie includes April O’Neil as a high school journalist wanting to report on the turtles taking down the local threat of Super Fly, and the Mighty Mutanimals, a gang of fellow mutants. The movie’s animation appears to take inspiration from the Spider Verse movies with it’s colorful comic like feeling, and is currently set for a sequel, and spin-off paramount tv series, where it is actively streaming.

Paramount Picture Youtube

https://www.cbr.com/ninja-turtles-tv-versions-shows-explained-tmnt/#teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles

https://screenrant.com/every-movie-tv-adapatation-tmnt-chronological-order/#mutant-turtles-superman-legend-1996

https://www.gamesradar.com/the-evolution-of-the-teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-looks-over-the-decades/

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About the Contributor
Haydyn Kirby
Haydyn Kirby, Staff Writer
Haydyn Kirby is a Senior at BBH High School, this is her first year in the Hybreeze. She is also a member of the marching bees Flagline, as well as the hockey and bowling teams. Haydyn is a part of the NHS and has been partaking in creative writing for seven years. She is excited to join the Hybreeze staff and bring interesting stories to the BBH community.

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